There is nothing natural about passing a volleyball. In fact, the sport of volleyball is very ‘un-natural’. We do not grow up bouncing a ball off our forearms or cocking our wrists in unison to set a ball. The closest childhood similarity is batting a balloon in the air. We grow up throwing, kicking, and shooting balls. Ever watch a group of football players get on a volleyball court and try to play? These talented athletes often look quite uncoordinated playing volleyball. Volleyball is an extremely technical game, it is the mastery of these un-natural technical movements that makes our sport so unique, so great.
Learning to pass a volleyball takes time. Through experience we learn the flight, the trajectory of a volleyball. Serve receive in particular is an art. It takes thousands upon thousands of repetitions to understand and recognize the movement of a jump serve or float serve. Great pitchers in baseball, like Phil and Joe Neikro and Tim Wakefield, have Hall of Fame Careers baffling batters with their knuckleball pitch (the movement is similar to a float serve). Opposing batters hit .250 against these great pitchers (that’s 2.5 successful at-bats for every 10 attempts), yet we in volleyball demand excellence of our serve receive passers (.700 or 7 out of 10 perfect passes) against wicked float (knuckleball-like movement) serves.
It is my opinion that the great players of our game, especially those with great ball control, are the ones that grow-up around the game. Karch Kiraly and Misty May watched their parents play on the beach before they were big enough to play with them. When they were finally big enough, they primarily passed and played defense because they still weren’t big enough to hit the ball over the net. This experience that makes their movements an effortless, thoughtless habit.
So what can you do to become a great passer if you weren’t lucky enough to have parents that used your crib railing as a net? First is to know, understand, and successfully apply on a consistent basis the motor movements of passing. Books have been written discussing these movements, but here are some generalities:
- Smooth, balanced footwork to the point where you will intercept the flight of the volleyball.
- Recognizing when to center the ball on your body versus reaching out to pass a ball off your side.
- Understanding the platform angles around the volleyball court. For instance, the closer you are to the net, the more parallel your arms are to the floor. The closer your platform is to the sidelines, the greater the angle to the setting target.
- Learning the “touch and feel” of the platform push and body weight transfer.
Reading the flight of the volleyball, proper movement to the ball, and the touch and feel are essential to the art of passing. Repetition, repetition, repetition is the best teacher of these elements as a whole. But once it is mastered, it is beautiful to watch a great libero dance around the court to consistently get themself in position to pass. Without great passing, a team cannot be great.